Skip to content

Central Alberta experienced moderate to extreme drought conditions in May

Dry conditions a concern for producers, specialist says
(Stock image/Metro Creative Connection)

By Jessica Nelson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette

Parts of the province experienced moderate to extreme drought conditions in May, but the situation is not yet dire for producers.

A preliminary assessment of May’s drought conditions showed a degradation of soil moisture levels from the month prior throughout much of Alberta, said Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The updated Canadian Drought Monitor (CDM) was released early this week.

“I don’t want to be too dire in terms of the message here because we are early in the season, and we do have some significant time before it becomes critical, especially in the southern region,” said Hadwen.

According to the report, the central region — extending from Edmonton south to Red Deer, Camrose, and to the east to Lloydminster — experienced moderate to extreme drought conditions for the month of May.

The area has long-term drying conditions which are, “a little bit more dangerous” as they impact not only development, but also water supplies and the deeper soil moisture, and take longer to recover.

“The northern region, it’s (also) a longer-term issue and things will take significant time to recover,” Hadwen said.

Preliminary data showed the southern portion of the province experienced moderate to severe drought conditions for May, which Hadwen described as a short-term issue.

“In terms of short-term (drying conditions), agricultural and vegetative crops are now going to be impacted by lack of moisture in the upper levels of the soil horizon,” he said. “They can bounce back a little bit easier.”

A combination of factors has contributed to the current soil moisture levels, including a drier than normal fall last year.

“In the fall period, much of the province started to receive well-below-normal precipitation … especially in that (central region from) Lloydminster through Vegreville. That whole area was the driest region from the late growing season into the winter freeze up,” he said.

Through the winter season, the central region received a bit more moisture but not enough to recover from the dry fall season.

“We tended to go into spring with a little bit of a deficit in those northern and central regions of the province. The southern region, on the other hand was quite good,” he said.

The southern portion of the province was, “actually doing fairly well going into the winter,” said Hadwen.

The southern portion also received good snowfall and rainfall through the region, and Hadwen said he was optimistic going into spring, though the season came late.

“We are dealing with below-normal temperatures early spring and lack of snow cover going into the real warm periods that arrived in April, and then all of a sudden we started getting extremely warm temperatures — so we’ve kind of jumped from winter to summer real quick,” he said.

Temperatures were on average five degrees above normal for May throughout much of the province and that, combined with extremely low precipitation and wind, has made for drier soil conditions.

However, there are pockets that have seen improvements, including in the northwestern portion in the Peace River region and the southeastern portion in Cypress County.

“(Those areas) do have some good potential for crops this year,” he said.

Other areas in the province will have to wait and see how the crops get started, said Hadwen, as some areas need the moisture to germinate.

However, he said conditions could change quickly.

“Last June, we were going into the month in much worse condition than we are currently, and we ended up recovering very well because of a couple of big storm events. If we get storm events, that southern region can bounce back quick.

“The northern region again, it’s a longer-term issue and things will take significant time to recover,” he said. “If we get the moisture, agricultural crops will be fine but we need to get that continued moisture on a timely basis throughout the season.”